THE MONDAY BOOK: The Messiah of Stringed Instruments ; Stradivarius Toby Faber Macmillan, Pounds 16.99/pounds 15.99 (Free P&p) from 0870 079 8897
Clinch, Dermot, The Independent (London, England)
EARLY IN this instrumental odyssey - his subtitle is "one cello, five violins and a genius"- Toby Faber meets an instrument dealer who is "everything one expects a violin expert to be: urbane and charming, with a penchant for expensive cigars and a fund of amusing stories". We probably should expect violin experts to puff Havanas and drip anecdotes. Just as we should expect famous cellists -Yo Yo Ma, later in the book - to compare their favourite instrument to a "really great wine". The sound just "keeps on coming and coming".
Faber's book follows the fate of six renowned instruments by the most famous of all makers from manufacture to the present day. The early action is set in a savage past - Stradivari takes as wife a woman whose first husband has been gunned down with an arquebus in Cremona's town square - but genius is soon piercing the gloom. Antonio's craftsmanship and experimentation are deftly described, the moulds marked Piu Grande distinguished from the ones marked Modello Buono. With an estimated 1,200 instruments made over a career of 70 years, Stradivari finally gets the recognition he deserves, that of "archbishops, dukes and kings".
Rude economic forces are constantly at play. A wily peasant amasses Stradivarian masterpieces, treks barefoot from Italy to France to flog them at huge profit, but leaves some - strategically, temptingly - behind. One of those left in Milan earns the name "The Messiah" on account of being, in the words of a frustrated purchaser, "always expected, but never appearing". …